Distraction and disappointment.
Our politics are full of both. They get in the way of meaningful discourse. They diminish candidates. And even though media can't ignore them, I fear they can sour an electorate.
Look at top-ticket races in Pennsylvania in a year seen as energizing voters in both parties — even in a midterm cycle normally known for low turnout.
You might expect high-quality, high-profile marquee matchups deeply engaging a perked-up public. You might expect that, but you'd be wrong.
Instead, contests for U.S. Senate and governor have been sleepers — and I mean with soft pillows and lots of bedding — because of incumbent Democrats Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Wolf.
Neither is blessed with inspirational traits. I really don't know what either would do in another term (except fight Donald Trump). Both rely on big war chests, and the narrative that a Democratic year all but ensures their reelection.
Wolf won't engage. Casey just wrongly over-engaged (more on that in a bit).
On the other side, Casey's opponent, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, and Wolf's challenger, former State Sen. Scott Wagner, are overmatched in money and beset by polling that all along suggested they cannot win.
And now? In the final weeks when people might pay attention, weigh the candidates, look at issues, get a sense who these people are?
Now we get distractions.
A colleague suggests maybe Wagner is hoping for a spike in the polls.
I'm thinking he maybe just spiked his campaign.
Then there's Casey.
But Barletta responded more powerfully. He noted he has an 18-month-old twin grandson suffering from cancer and undergoing treatment. He said Casey knows this because Barletta told Casey and his wife a month ago.
Barletta said for Casey to run the ad anyway is "the lowest thing I've ever seen in my life," because it implies Barletta would deny care to his own grandson.
He questioned whether Casey wants to "win an election that badly that he would hurt a family." He said the ad should come down, and Casey "should be ashamed of himself."
Plus, Casey's got two other ads on preexisting conditions, a double-digit lead in polls, and close to $7 million in his campaign bank. He didn't need this ad.
Late Monday, the Casey camp said it would no longer air the ad in the Scranton media market, home to both Casey and Barletta, but keep it on in the rest of the state.
This is a cheap, selective apology. The ad shouldn't have run at all. And Casey, who built a career based in part on a reputation for decency, should be ashamed of himself.
Years-long fights over health coverage related to preexisting conditions such as cancer are ongoing. Barletta voted for a failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2011. The act protects those with preexisting conditions. It passed in 2010, taking full effect in 2014. But Barletta is on record supporting a GOP replacement plan to protect those with preexisting conditions, according to his campaign.
There is so much more to the electoral process than these campaigns have shown us. They have cheated voters. They have mocked Pennsylvania's legacy. They have made the cradle of democracy feel more like a crypt for open, honest, and civil dialogue.